I used to have nightmares about tarts. I’ve been baking for years. I’ve read books, taken classes and have years of homemade pies and tarts under my belt; but for some reason I’ve never been confident when my hands touch that dough. It’s possible I’ve seen every possible pie dough related disaster: hockey puck tough, torn to shreds, crumbled to oblivion, shaggy, sticky, soggy, scorched. You name it, it’s happened to my dough; so when I found out our first week would be tarts, I said “Bring it on”
I’m in France …if there’s a time where I can give my tart anxiety the finger it would be now. It’s time to become one with the dough or “to be aware” as Chef Phillipe would say. I need to be aware of what Pate Sablee should feel like in my hands when it’s ready or that I rolled it to adequate thickness. I need to be aware that I have control over my dough and can successfully produce the tarts of crumb coated dreams.
We kicked off our first week of class with all components of classic French Tarts: various doughs, fillings and decoration with the patient (and often hilarious) Chef Phillipe.
Day one began with pate sablee (sweet dough) for a classic Tarte aux Pommes (Apple Tart). This is essentially the French answer to apple pie but lighter and much more elegant. I didn’t find anything unusual about this recipe compared to standard sweet tart dough except the addition of almond powder which the French use quite frequently and I sure as hell don’t mind!
The tarte aux pomme is filled with a light layer of homemade apple compote, followed by thinly slice apples. It is simple and uses far less flavoring than it’s American counterpart; but that’s what I like about French pastry—the ingredients speak for themselves.
We used pate a foncer for our Tarte Flan (custard tart), which is essentially the French equivalent to pie crust. The recipe uses 100% butter (no shortening), so chilled butter is certainly key. The flan component is made like a classic custard, poured into a chilled, lined tart ring and baked until caramelized. It’s a very heavy, decedent tart.
On Day Two we made the all time classic Tarte Citron (or lemon tarts) with a pate sucree crust. This dough is quite similar to pate sablee but uses warm butter and is much more difficult to work with. I needed more patches than a quilt when I blind baked my shell; but in the end it worked out. I filled the inside with fresh lemon curd and it was just divine.
We also made Tarte Bourdaloue which had poached pears, almond cream and slightly too much rum. Once again, we used pate sablee as the crust.
Day Three was time for a classic Tarte Noire on a Pate Sablee crust. We made chocolate ganache using a mixture of both dark and milk chocolates and finished with a chocolate fan decoration. Dealing with chocolate decoration is a bit tricky (it really requires the perfect temperature) but I was satisfied with the end result.
We also made a second apple tart called Tarte Alsatian on a pate a foncer crust. This was essentially just sliced apples in custard and the most rustic of the tarts.
Our Final Day we made Lunettes out of leftover pate sablee with raspberry jam from scratch. These are essentially the same thing as linzer cookies but with a traditional French shape found in most patisseries.
Finally, we prepared my favorite tart of the week, a fruit tart on sable breton. This crust is rich, buttery and very forgiving–by far the best crust we worked with. We topped it with classic French pastry cream and a mixed fruit decoration. Overall, I’d say I kicked tart week’s ass.